Longbourn: Jane Austen’s Novel from a Servant’s Perspective. Sort of.

Jane Austen is my jam. I love her work. I make a point of re-reading at least one of her novels every year. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice so many times now that I’m not sure I’m even reading it anymore as much as I’m turning the pages as I work my way through memorized passages.

But, with a couple of exceptions, I’m not a fan of Jane Austen knock offs or continuations. I did enjoy P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberly and once I was totally into the story as seen from Darcy’s perspective (Darcy’s Passions, catchy title right?). But in general, these aren’t my thing. I know there are whole series based on the continuation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story but I just can’t. Best not to get me started on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies thing.

All this to say that the idea of the Pride and Prejudice story as seen from the point of view of the Bennett family domestic staff intrigued me. Jo Baker’s Longbourn sounded like an ideal mix of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey, which we’re all into right now.

I got it for Christmas from my mom and didn’t even pretend like I was going to savour it. I cracked that baby in the car on the way up to our holiday retreat. I was done with it the next day.


Longbourn focuses almost exclusively on the domestic staff of the Bennett family. Mrs. Hill, the cook and general housekeeper who has had a secret dalliance with the master of the house; Sarah, the housemaid who desperately wants to be free of a life of service and is determined to marry out of it; Polly, a junior housemaid, taken in from the local orphanage; and James, the handsome and mysterious, (but super helpful) new footman.

We do get a highlights tour of the plot points of Pride and Prejudice, at least the ones where a servant might have been present. But mostly the story focuses on Sarah and her relationship with James, using the Pride and Prejudice story as a kind of anchor. I wasn’t too keen on the characterization of Elizabeth, but from Sarah’s viewpoint she must have been kind of a silly girl who constantly muddied her petticoats.

The story’s point of view changes a few times – we start with Sarah’s life as it is, understanding that this wasn’t the life that she was meant for but things changed, then Mrs. Hill takes us back and clears up some things for us and we end up with James, in his life before Longbourn, before swinging back to Sarah to wrap things up.

This book was clearly meticulously researched. The amount of work that must have gone into looking at the lives of domestics in Regency England, the processes that saw clothes washed, food prepared, clothes made etc – it was insane. Although these passages tended to reinforce the idea that the Bennetts were actually dirty (thanks Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice), an idea that I abhor (I prefer my Bennetts as they are in the BBC production), it was an interesting look at life as it was.

Overall, I thought the idea was an original one and I enjoyed the story but it didn’t engage me like the original. And I’m not sure I can forgive Jo Baker for keeping Mr. Darcy a hardass.


I Changed My Mind: Books I’m Excited About This Season

Remember the other day when I was all “waaaaaa, there are no new books out this fall that I want to read!”?

Turns out I just needed to pull my head out of my a$$ and go to a book store.

I was in the habit of going to bookstores fairly regularly, opening my wallet and my arms to a number of books. But then I got engaged (woot woot!) and started spending more time at the library in the hopes of saving enough pennies to put towards things like flowers and photographers.

The one drawback with going to the library is that the titles on hand aren’t always the freshest.

So imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found myself in a bookstore the other night, surrounded by new books that I want to read!

And the hits keep coming because this week I’ve been hearing about so many other great sounding books I want. I guess the difference this season is that the books aren’t by authors that I already love.

So here’s a rundown of the books that I’m most looking forward to reading soon.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. I’m pretty sure this book combines my love of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey and I cannot think of anything more perfect book-wise right now. The story of Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia from the perspective of gossipy servants? I’m in.

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower. I have a fascination with Hitler and the Third Reich. I can’t help it – I know it’s twisted. But one thing that’s not often discussed in books about Hitler or the Third Reich is the role of women in the Third Reich. Not the “undesirables” or those women that helped the Nazis to save themselves, but the women that were a part of it all. The ones that actively participated in the solution to the “Jewish Problem.” Wendy Lower finally addresses it and I’m looking forward to reading about them.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. Aside from the fact that this book has a beautiful cover, there’s been a lot of buzz about this one – I’ve even heard it described as our generation’s 1984. Which is saying something. The premise of a young woman working for the world’s biggest internet company (think Facebook or twitter) and coming face to face with the reality of that much information and power in one place, really appeals to that part of me that grew into adulthood with social media dogging every footstep.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. Here’s one of my favourite authors that I didn’t know had a new book out. I loved The Devil in the White City and adored In the Garden of Beasts so I’ve unknowingly been waiting for his new book. Guglielmo Marconi’s telegraph changed the way we communicated but evidently he also played an important role in one of the biggest manhunts in history. Larson is an unparalleled story teller. His tales are true, but you always forget that you’re not reading a novel, such is his talent.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Last year I found out that Alexandre Dumas was a black man. It had never occurred to me that a famous French author from that time could be black which probably says all the wrong things about me (see why reading is important people? You learn so many things). The Black Count is the story of Dumas’ father who was born in Haiti the son of a black slave, came to Paris and ended up becoming a General commanding armies at the height of the Revolution. How can you not want to read that?

And I did actually walk out of the bookstore with Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath because I cannot ever walk away from new Gladwell.

I feel like my book spirit has revived! Bring on the long (Canadian) weekend – I have some reading to do!